1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

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phylo_roadking
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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 15 Jun 2009 19:53

Shores makes ref to a Z506B Floatplane being shot down on Jan 3rd (Pg 26) by 55Sqn
This wouldn't by any chance be one of the "bombers" encountered attacking HMS Terror on the 3rd? That's listed under "Libya", there's nothing listed for the Malta area on the 3rd.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 16 Jun 2009 02:58

phylo_roadking wrote:... it DOES seem that contrary to the view one would get from Budden, the CIDS did take the decision to upgrade Malta's air defences considerably before the war. From Denis Richards, regarding Malta's value and its defence -
Budden isn't all that 'anti-Malta' if that's the impression you've gotten from the scans I posted. Rather, he emphasizes the very differing views held by the Admiralty and the Air Ministry about the defensibility of Malta.
It might, for instance, by employed as an air staging post and reconnaissance base, a naval refuge and emergency repair depot, or a base for light naval forces. It was therefore well worth defending reasons of prestige apart; and in the summer of 1939 the Committee of Imperial Defence approved a long-term air defence programme amounting to four fighter squadrons and 172 anti-aircraft guns. The Air Ministry, however, not unnaturally doubted whether Malta could survive under the very nose of the Italian Air Force; and fighters were badly needed elsewhere. When the Italians entered the war Malta was thus still awaiting its four squadrons, though the necessary airfields had been built, and a radar station had been in existence since March 1939
The 'naval refuge' clause sort of pointing to that both services were indeed in basic agreement that the Royal Navy's Mediterranean Fleet should vacate the premises in the event of Italy entering the pending European war. Also, remember that no pre-war plans for Malta allowed for France leaving the war quickly - with Tunisia and metropolitan France being unavailable as staging points, Malta would be more exposed, and much more difficult to keep supplied.

Also, the scale of defense which you outline was contested. Writes Budden:
July [1939] finally saw the production of the JDC's considered view of the
air defence of Malta. Unsurprisingly, agreement had not been reached
on the scale of defences considered appropriate for the island, and the
committee therefore felt compelled to make two recommendations,
referred to as Scale A and Scale B. Scale A left the current approved
scale of 48 heavy AA guns, 16 light AA guns, 24 searchlights and one
squadron of fighters unchanged, while Scale B advocated an increase
to 112 heavy and 60 light guns, 24 searchlights, four squadrons of
fighters, and the possible inclusion of balloons, aerial mines and other
such devices.
Of Scale A, it was agreed that, 'Such a scale of defence, though forming
a useful deterrent to sporadic attack, could not be expected to
prevent the destruction of the dockyard, if it were decided by the Italians
to concentrate a large proportion of their air striking force on this
objective'. However, implementing Scale B would cost around £8
million and would take even longer to realize than the current
approved scale, which was itself far from complete. Furthermore, the
JDC noted: 'Whether even these measures would ensure the use of
Malta for the fleet is a matter on which the Committee are unable
to agree.'
...yet the CID finally decided that it was either/or, and approved the Scale B plan for Malta's defenses, as you write. That looks like a victory of sorts for the Admiralty - but events overtook the plan to strengthen Malta's defenses. Budden continues:
However, the CID's approval of Scale B initially changed little, as the coming months were to show. Indeed, barely was the ink dry on it than it was being undermined, for at a meeting held on 3 August it was decided, with the admiralty's approval it must be noted, that eight heavy and eight light AA guns originally earmarked for dispatch to Malta should instead go to Alexandria and Aden. With war looming, there was no possibility of being able to fulfil Scale B in the near future. Steps would therefore be taken to ensure that those Mediterranean and Red Sea bases which required a scale of air defences far easier to complete than Malta's were adequately defended. Alexandria, the only British base in the Mediterranean from which capital ships would be able to operate in relative safety in the short to mid-term, suddenly, and quite rightly, became the navy's priority. Malta would simply have to wait.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Dili » 16 Jun 2009 05:14

The 500 kg bombs which they got at Lecce must have been the heaviest bombs in the Italian inventory at this time?
No they had 800kg bombs, Br.20 was designed to take 2 at very short range and Z.1007 1x800kg+3x100kg, there was also the 500kg bomb. The 800kg one it seems was a failure, not much better than the 500kg one. They were GP bombs not armor piercing ones like i suppose these German ones for Stukas were. Neverthless heavy bombs were not very comonly used but there was a general movement to heavier bombs from war start.

This is the reported number of bombs at war start.

800kg n.362
500kg n.3396
500/S n.1000
250kg n.12793
160/AS n.4410
100/M n.152972
100/T n.47695
50/T n.276459
15kg. n.767963
12kg n.355259
2kg. n.1403796
Shores lists the 289a Squadriglia as a SM 79sil. unit commanded by a captain Orazio Bernardini, but as you say, Shores appears to be in error about the unit's designation. Do you know the actual designation?
As far as i know in Jan41 there were 4 sil. squadrons in existence: 278,279,280,281. It might be that he is correct that the unit had a brief existence or that it is a typo with 279.

Edit: actually i was wrong, i checked in detail my notes and only 278 and 279 were in existence, there were also the 2 torpedo schools (NAS) of Gorizia and Naples that sometimes were called to be employed in combat.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 16 Jun 2009 17:23

However, the CID's approval of Scale B initially changed little, as the coming months were to show. Indeed, barely was the ink dry on it than it was being undermined, for at a meeting held on 3 August it was decided, with the admiralty's approval it must be noted, that eight heavy and eight light AA guns originally earmarked for dispatch to Malta should instead go to Alexandria and Aden. With war looming, there was no possibility of being able to fulfil Scale B in the near future. Steps would therefore be taken to ensure that those Mediterranean and Red Sea bases which required a scale of air defences far easier to complete than Malta's were adequately defended. Alexandria, the only British base in the Mediterranean from which capital ships would be able to operate in relative safety in the short to mid-term, suddenly, and quite rightly, became the navy's priority. Malta would simply have to wait
I did acknowledge this in my -
nothing much having been done BY the outbreak of war with Italy
My point on page 4 above wasn't how much or how little WAS done; it was that the decision had at least been made and thus the gradual 1940/41 build-up...in the face of so many other conflicting needs...reflected that summer '39 decision - rather than merely being a knee-jerk reaction to finding ourselves at war with Italy.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Sid Guttridge » 17 Jun 2009 13:52

Hi Phylo,

You write: "Interesting. Not only does Shores tally exactly with the other historical record I've discovered..."

What historical record would that be?

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 17 Jun 2009 16:44

Sid, you almost disappoint me. I'm very suprised you haven't searched on the samples I've given. It's the "FDR Telegrams"; Whitehall - specifically the F.O. - sent the White House a resumee telegram DAILY with the previous 24 hours' war news in it. VERY detailed - I'll be referring to them a LOT in the future! And even MORE useful in that I don't have to traipse to Kew for them!!!

You remember the discussion about monitoring the "hot line" and that the cryptic conversations that ONLY made sense if they referred to something each person would be holding in their hand? :wink: I didn't realise until I happened across them three weeks ago by accident in the middle of a completely unrelated Google search that these are now online in their entirety. BOTH direct scans of the actual received document AND OCR'd versions for cutting/pasting.

The only caveat is that they're "snapshot" records I.E. they refer to for example claimed kills and probable kills...as the situation lays when the telegram is sent...but they rarely revisit topics unless there's MAJOR new information about something only arriving later...such as something happening in the wee small hours of the day/date the telegram is actual sent; THAT would then get carried over to the next day's telegram.

They don't for example return after however many days and revise the "three missing" as of the 26/2/41 to "two missing and one RAF pilot confirmed" lost after the finding of Eric Taylor's Mae West. It's not...important enough :(

Against that, however - is the amount of detail contained in them about the day-to-day conduct of the war, and additional details now rarely found elswhere :wink: For example, for the 19/1 they report the two bombs that "damaged" the Illustrious that day exploded under her, "holed" her hull in two places AND flooded both her boiler rooms. This makes her subsequent rapid departure on the 23rd of January at 2/3rds speed even more remarkable, after only a further three days' or so repairs.

And equally important is the fact that they're written SO close to events, normally within 24 hours, I presume directly from material collated in the Cabinet War Rooms. It's like the "day-to-day history of WWII" about the British end and view of the war that so many sites/books/documentaries promise but never deliver :lol:

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Dili » 18 Jun 2009 06:05

phylo_roadking allow me to make a parentisis to ask: what will be the best source online preferably to know RAF losses in Mediterranean theatre by year?

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Sid Guttridge » 18 Jun 2009 18:15

Hi Phylo,

Why would I search on the samples you have given when they aren't sourced? That is precisely the reason why I had to ask you what you were referring to in the first place. Writing "My source" and "the other historical record I've discovered" are no substitute for just giving that source and how to get to it.

If it is in print, why not just give details of title, author, publisher, etc.?

If it is in an archive why not give the file reference?

If it is on the net, why not give an address?

Then we can all use it.

I know there can be a temptation to horde sources to ourselves, but it is not helpful to the generality of posters to do so. We are here to spread information, not restrict it by giving partial or cryptic references to sources that cannot be followed up.

Anyway, I am glad you are beginning to appreciate the value of the books by Shores and his co-authors. I would also point out that they source their information from all sides. A good example is their book on the Balkan air campaigns in April-May 1941, where even the Yugoslavs and Greeks are well served alongside the Germans, Italians and British.

Cheers,

Sid.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 18 Jun 2009 20:05

If it is in print, why not just give details of title, author, publisher, etc.?

If it is in an archive why not give the file reference?

If it is on the net, why not give an address?
Once I knew it was reliable I was perfectly willing to. Here for example is the first half of 1941 break-in page...

http://www.fdrlibrary.marist.edu/psf/box35/...

Inside each box and subfolder, each day readers will find a covering letter AND a subsequent detailed report for each day. Each daily sitrep is 2-3 [pages long. On the panel at the bottom, the "View Text" tab will convert the view to the OCR'd version for cutting/pasting.
I know there can be a temptation to horde sources to ourselves, but it is not helpful to the generality of posters to do so. We are here to spread information, not restrict it by giving partial or cryptic references to sources that cannot be followed up.
I LOVE the attempt at an adhominem, but as I've made clear through the thread I was interested at that point in checking how reliable its content was for future use before broadcating the source - no cigar :wink:
Anyway, I am glad you are beginning to appreciate the value of the books by Shores and his co-authors. I would also point out that they source their information from all sides.
Quite the reverse. I'm becoming more aware of their limitations. They are fine for what they cover - but that is restricted by their sources. IIRC the last few pages contain quite a few caveats as to their content on various incidents...

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 18 Jun 2009 21:36

Thanks for the link, phylo.
phylo_roadking wrote:...The only caveat is that they're "snapshot" records I.E...
They don't for example return after however many days and revise the "three missing" as of the 26/2/41 to "two missing and one RAF pilot confirmed" lost after the finding of Eric Taylor's Mae West. It's not...important enough :( ...
It seems likely to me that Shores and the telegram authors must have relied on the same primary sources - that is, RAF and Royal Navy records. There is a near-100% match betwixt Shores' information and the London telegrams, but in some cases Shores is providing more information than the telegrams do.

If we accept that Shores isn't plainly making things up, he must have had access to information at least similar to the information that the London telegram authors did. It follows that neither Shores nor the London telegrams are secondary to one another; they must both be secondary to primary source which we don't have to hand ourselves.
Against that, however - is the amount of detail contained in them about the day-to-day conduct of the war, and additional details now rarely found elswhere :wink: For example, for the 19/1 they report the two bombs that "damaged" the Illustrious that day exploded under her, "holed" her hull in two places AND flooded both her boiler rooms. This makes her subsequent rapid departure on the 23rd of January at 2/3rds speed even more remarkable, after only a further three days' or so repairs...
Careful now! The telegrams make reference to two boiler rooms damaged, not both boiler rooms damaged. It could well be - at least I think that was the case - that the Illustrious had more than two boiler rooms in total.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 18 Jun 2009 22:33

Careful now! The telegrams make reference to two boiler rooms damaged, not both boiler rooms damaged. It could well be - at least I think that was the case - that the Illustrious had more than two boiler rooms in total.
Jon - actually, this is the sort of thing I find the FDR telegrams so interesting for; in most places where you find reference to the Illustrious' drivetrain...it mentions "THE boiler room" singular! :lol: This is what I mean about the FDR telegrams being remarkably exact to detail in some areas - when the Illustrious was laid down, she had one uninterrupted boilerroom flat...and if this was to flood and the boilers go down, the ship would loose power for pumping and firefighting. Awareness of this major weakness arose out of the investigations into the sinking of the Ark Royal. The Illustrious was modified later in her career, as were the rest of the vessels in her class, to subdivide this space. But at the time of her Malta visit -
Port engine and one boiler-room out of action - second boiler room damaged and ship holed on both sides.
...I believe you're quite right - "boiler room" can refer to the as-yet across-the-frame single large boiler room flat...OR her three "forward" boiler rooms - port, starboard and centre - for her three turbines.

As it was - I was quite suprised to find most accounts available today being VERY unspecific and still referring only to "the boiler room", singular. Even the couple of ex-servicemen's anecdotes on their career aboard her that are available.
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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 18 Jun 2009 22:42

There is a near-100% match betwixt Shores' information and the London telegrams,
...on RAF losses etc. :wink: Not necessarily - as we have seen - on AXIS losses...
If we accept that Shores isn't plainly making things up, he must have had access to information at least similar to the information that the London telegram authors did. It follows that neither Shores nor the London telegrams are secondary to one another; they must both be secondary to primary source which we don't have to hand ourselves.
Certainly; I assume whatever daily and event bulletins/reports/messages are arriving in the Admiralty are "digested" onwards to Whitehall, and the F.O. picks them up there or its circulated to them. I'm not as yet sure of the process, but I can see the Cabinet War Room being the filter by which digests of war news cross over from the military commands to the civilian government. I'll have to do some reading up on that, I presume John Colville might enlighten us...
but in some cases Shores is providing more information than the telegrams do
Shores and his researchers are doing a different job; and have the leisure to "trace" events through to a viable "conclusion"...like the final attribution of Eric Taylor as KIA after his Mae West was found. The F.O. is simply trying to get across the MOST information in the shortest space/time.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 18 Jun 2009 23:34

phylo_roadking wrote:
There is a near-100% match betwixt Shores' information and the London telegrams,
...on RAF losses etc. :wink: Not necessarily - as we have seen - on AXIS losses...
Of course not. The London telegrams are secondary only to RAF/FAA claims, not to actual Axis losses; though it's theoretically possible that the London telegram authors had access to Axis loss records, it does not seem likely.

Reconciling one side's claims with another side's losses is an exercise done often enough, also on this thread. Clearly, Shores, from a more detached point in time, had access to primary records of all participants.
...
but in some cases Shores is providing more information than the telegrams do
Shores and his researchers are doing a different job; and have the leisure to "trace" events through to a viable "conclusion"...like the final attribution of Eric Taylor as KIA after his Mae West was found. The F.O. is simply trying to get across the MOST information in the shortest space/time.
By inference (such as the bullet hole in Eric Taylor's mae west) we can deduce what information was available to the telegram authors at the time, thanks to the timestamps, relative to the information which Shores could find at a later time. We can't however conclude that it was only time constraints which may have lead the telegram authors to omit some information in some cases. The London telegram timestamps are most valuable for establishing that they (the telegrams) don't rely on Shores.

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by phylo_roadking » 19 Jun 2009 00:03

though it's theoretically possible that the London telegram authors had access to Axis loss records, it does not seem likely
Actually - more possible than you might think - fo it was daily reports by wireless, and LW intelligence material going back and forth, that Bletchley park was reading from mid-1940 onwards :wink: They couldn't pick up things like movement orders etc, the sort of stuff discussed by telephone THEN confirmed in writing...but they were picking up a LOT, like the details ahead of schedule of the Spring '41 bombing campaign.
We can't however conclude that it was only time constraints which may have lead the telegram authors to omit some information in some cases.
Certainly not. We don't know for instance what political constraints were on the F.O..... 8O BUT given that sanguine exactness of RAF loss reports...they were by 1941 at least being "brutally honest" :?
The London telegram timestamps are most valuable for establishing that they (the telegrams) don't rely on Shores.
They are more useful as a day-to-day account of the British war - in one place - and only 24 hours after events :wink:

What IS interesting is the fact that the RAF loss reports tally so closely with Shores...which as he and his researchers probably went to the IWM and Kew for the actual combat reports and squadron returns, would argue that HE should have the ...more accurate?...and definitive material I.E. the returns that Whitehall digests woyuld have been written FROM. The fact they DO tally so closely goes to show - as I said above - that London was being brutally honest with Washington.

(As an aside - at some point I'll have to go back to the 1940 material and find out if they were similarly brutal at the time of the BoB...a time when Winston was accused by the Joseph Kennedys of this world of playing DOWN RAF losses :wink: Be interesting - with a definitive work for the BoB beside me - to confirm if it was Winston or Kennedy that was massaging the truth...)

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Re: 1941 convoys in the Central Med & the air battle over Malta

Post by Jon G. » 19 Jun 2009 00:56

phylo_roadking wrote:...
We can't however conclude that it was only time constraints which may have lead the telegram authors to omit some information in some cases.
Certainly not. We don't know for instance what political constraints were on the F.O..... 8O BUT given that sanguine exactness of RAF loss reports...they were by 1941 at least being "brutally honest" :?
Well, we can infer a number of things. For example, with a Lend-Lease bill looming on the horizon, we could conclude that the British had every reason to be completely up front and honest reporting their losses to a potential benefactor :)

But I have no doubts that the RAF loss reports in the London telegrams are 100% congruent with actual RAF loss reports buried somewhere at Kew - I just can't positively know if this is the case until I've seen those loss reports myself. Admittedly, that is rather a sidetrack to this discussion, though.
The London telegram timestamps are most valuable for establishing that they (the telegrams) don't rely on Shores.
They are more useful as a day-to-day account of the British war - in one place - and only 24 hours after events :wink:


Just the timestamps, not the telegrams themselves, establish that they aren't secondary to Shores and other historians. What the telegrams are useful for depends on which questions we ask of them. For example, the London telegrams are probably primary to what FDR and his staff knew about what was happening in the Mediterranean and Middle East at the time. And it certainly appears that FDR had a very detailed and accurate picture of what was going on.

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